Erbil (Agenzia Fides) - Mar Gewargis III Sliwa, Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, has announced his withdrawal from the patriarchal office for health reasons, while convening the Assyrian Bishops at the patriarchal see of Erbil for a special session of the Holy Synod to elect his successor next April. In a statement signed on Wednesday 19 February by Mar Awa Royel, Assyrian Bishop of California and Secretary General of the Holy Synod of Assyrian Bishops, the contents of the letter sent last February 3 by the Patriarch who resigned to all Assyrian Bishops scattered throughout the world are disclosed. invite them to the special meeting of the Synod convened in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, from 22 to 27 April.
In his letter, Mar Gewargis confirms that his health conditions were improving after the serious health problems that hit him last December during his stay in Germany. Precisely the worsening of his physical condition - explained the Patriarch in his letter - also led him to reflect in depth on his current impossibility to adequately carry out the functions related to the "sublime task that was entrusted to him. For this reason, in complete freedom and after thorough reflection and prayer, Patriarch Gewargis has decided to renounce the patriarchal office and the duties connected to it. In view of the liturgical time of fasting and penance preceding the celebration of Easter, the letter signed by Mar Awa Royel asks all Christians of the Assyrian Church of the East to address special prayers "to Our Lord Jesus Christ", so that He, "the great Shepherd of the Church", may help the Assyrian Bishops to elect "the new Father of the fathers, the Catholicos-Patriarch, according to the will of God the Father and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit".
Gewargis Sliwa was born on November 23, 1941 in Habbaniya, Iraq. He completed his studies first in Baghdad and then in the USA. He was ordained a priest in June 1980 and metropolitan Archbishop for Iraq in 1981. The Synod of the Assyrian Church of the East chose him as the new Patriarch on September 16, 2015 (see Fides, 21/9/2015). As Metropolitan of Iraq, Jordan and Russia, Gewargis was the only candidate for the patriarchal office who was still residing in Iraqi territory. The Assyrian patriarchal seat, following the exile of Patriarch Mar Eshai Shimun XXIII, had left the Middle East since 1933 and since 1940 had been established in Chicago, in the United States. During the years of Mar Gewargis’ t patriarchal office, the patriarchal seat of the Assyrian Church of the East returned to the Middle East and was located in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. Mar Gewargis III had succeeded Patriarch Mar Dinkha IV, who passed away in March 2015 in the United States, after a 39-year patriarchal mandate.
The Assyrian Church of the East has never had direct theological and dogmatic conflicts with the Bishop of Rome. The theological dialogue between the Assyrian Church and the Catholic Church officially began in 1984, and led to the common Christological declaration of 1994 (CCD), which confessed the faith in Christ shared between Catholics and Assyrians. The theology and spirituality of the Assyrian Church strongly emphasize the human nature of Christ.
In his first meeting with Pope Francis, which took place in Rome in November 2016, Mar Gewargis III had suggested the Bishop of Rome to call a meeting of the Patriarchs and Heads of the Eastern Churches to «discuss the situation in the Middle East, pray together, look for solutions to problems». The suggestion of the Assyrian Patriarch then came into effect with the ecumenical meeting on the Middle East convened by Pope Francis in Bari on 7 July 2018. (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 21/2/2020)